The most persuasive skill that anyone can learn doesn’t involve speaking. The skill has nothing to do with the color of the clothes you wear, or if you choose to smile or frown. The most important skill in persuading of others of your point of view, is listening first to their point of view. “Seek first to understand then to be understood.” I tell my students all the time that “You aren’t allowed to disagree with others until you can first articulate their perspective to their satisfaction.” Then and only then are you allowed to disagree with others. Now this is very difficult to do, because our first instinct in persuasion is “sell” our position to another person. This disposition of persuasion often descends into open hostility, especially if the other person is predisposed not to “buy” your arguments.
Many of us grew up in educational environments that taught us to express ourselves with a very clear premise and then defend that premise with evendetury support in the form of prepositional truths. We build strong defenses into our arguments that fortify our position. But of course, the problem is that these fortified walls that support our dogmas do more to keep others out than inviting them in. On the other hand, listening acts more as a water well that invites others to drink from the deep source of our positions and perspectives.
When the American West was being settled, ranchers invested in the utility of erecting fences. But these fences had an unintended consequence of making the grazing lands scarce and only available to those who could afford owning the land. When ranchers faced similar issues in the wide-open range of Australia, instead of building a fence, they dug a well. The livestock would remain corralled, not because of the hard and fast boundaries reinforced by fencing, but because someone had the foresight to find a source of water and dug a well. I’m convinced listening has the same effect on those we want to persuade to see things from our perspective. And listening provides the added benefit of transcending the persuasive process and opening our minds and hearts to ideas we perhaps had not considered.
The world will not be changed by the articulation of dogmatic boundaries, but rather by opening ourselves up to the words and ideas of others by listening. If you want to change the world, instead of building a wall, dig a well.